We all have a comfort zone; a genre of photography we shoot the most or enjoy the most. For me, it’s landscapes. Standing in front of a waterfall, beach or mountain at sunset is where I feel at home. Sometimes, however, you need to leave that comfort zone behind to recharge your creativity. That’s why in 2013 I dove head first into the world of storm chasing.
Now, diving into storm chasing isn’t something you do alone. You’ll probably end up hurt or dead doing that. Instead, I reached out to a fellow photographer (and now one of my best buds) Mike Mezeul. He’s been chasing for 14+ years now and is an incredible forecaster and weather expert. He was nice enough to let me tag along on chases until I got more comfortable and now we chase storms together in the spring each year.
In May of 2014, Mike and I headed out to West Texas during a potentially crazy day of storm activity. We tried chasing down a few storms near Wichita Falls, but they either fizzled out or were too far away. Finally, this storm popped up on radar to the southwest and just exploded. Within 10-20 minutes it was a healthy and mature supercell. By the time we got to it near Henrietta, Texas the town was tornado-warned (meaning it had radar-indicated rotation and could put down a tornado at any second).
Standing in front of this storm (and any supercell really) was one of the most intense things I’ve ever witnessed. I’ll never forget it. We had 40-50mph winds at our back from the storm sucking in warm, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico. The winds were so strong that if I didn’t stand in front of my tripod it would just blow over (actually it did when I ran back to the car to switch lenses). The storm was so big that even with my full frame Sony α7 and Sony 16-35 lens, there was no way to capture it in one shot. Instead, I had to shoot in portrait orientation and create an 8-shot panorama!
This supercell never did produce a tornado, but it's about as good as it gets structure-wise. It’s so amazing to see the entire storm in one shot too! The rain curtain can be seen clearly below the storm right in the middle. Just to the right of the rain is a rapidly rotating wall cloud. The tail coming out the storm to the right is moisture feeding into the storm (known as an inflow band/tail). The teal glow behind the clouds at the top right is the hail core inside the storm; light bounces off of and refracts through the hail inside and produces that crazy teal color.
Photographing storms is about as far as I could go outside my comfort zone and it completely changed my shooting style. I’ve also learned more about weather than I ever would have otherwise which has in turn helped me out with landscapes because I'm now able to predict weather, cloud movements, wind direction, sunsets/sunrises, etc. (I’ve even included a lot of this weather information in my ebook, Sunset & Beyond: A Photographer’s Guide to Sunset, Twilight and the Night Sky. Use coupon code “sonyalpha” at checkout for a discount!)
If there’s a type or genre of photography that makes you uncomfortable, I highly encourage you to pursue it (assuming it doesn’t make you uncomfortable for moral reasons). If you always shoot inside your comfort zone, your growth and progression as a photographer will eventually begin to suffer.
This final image is a composite of 8 single photographs taken with a Sony α7 and a Sony FE 16-35mm F4 ZA OSS lens.
See more of Jams Brandon's photography, sign for workshops and find his ebooks at jamesb.com.